But

The cross on stage at EastridgeThis past Sunday at Eastridge, our lead pastor Scott Moore shared a message that set up the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in a unique and powerful way. Scott took a look at the origin of sin in Genesis and how, because of sin, man’s relationship with God was torn – until Jesus repaired the relationship.

The book of Romans summarizes this narrative of sin and forgiveness:

12When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. 13Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. 15But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But

…and, as Scott said, there’s what just may be the biggest word in the Bible. BUT…

even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. 16And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. 17For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

18Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

But. It’s a simple word – three letters, one syllable, yet the truth conveyed after that one single word changed the world. I don’t know if this was verbatim from Scott’s message, but I tweeted this statement on Sunday:

As we consider Christ’s horrific death this Good Friday, think about how He brought about the reversal of our destiny. Consider how our future was changed by Jesus’ willing sacrifice. Be grateful. Be filled with praise. Be thankful.

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Worthy Of Suffering?

The past week or so, we’ve been reading through Acts in the Eastridge Reading Plan. I love Acts. The stories of the growth of the early church are eye-opening and fascinating, even though I’ve read them many times. But this time, one particular verse stuck out to me.

In Acts 5, the apostles have been arrested, thrown in jail, sternly warned, and beaten — all for healing and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then Luke, the author, makes a fascinating statement:

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.

Acts 5:41 (NIV)

Whoa. Worthy of suffering? These guys thought it was something special to go through hardship?

I don’t like to be inconvenienced or embarrassed. I push back and resist when I’m forced to go outside my comfort zone. When the expectations of my faith are ratcheted up, I kick and scream. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I’m not one of those throw-the-American-Church-under-the-bus types…that’s just not how I operate. But, no matter how great your church is (and I’m proud of the people of Eastridge), let’s face it: we Christians in America have it easy compared to just about everyone else in the rest of the worldwide Church. We don’t really know what it means to suffer for our faith, unless you consider persecution by the media or at work to be “suffering.”

The fact of the matter is this: for those of us follow Jesus Christ, what we believe in should be such a big deal to us that we’re willing to pay any price for it. Not just to be inconvenienced. Not just to be uncomfortable. But to lose everything if need be. Even to die.

To truly follow Christ means to consider ourselves worthy to suffer. I want to dive that deeply into my faith. What about you?

The Good Old Days? Not So Much…

These last couple of weeks, we’ve been reading from Ecclesiastes in the Eastridge Reading Plan. There’s plenty of wisdom to be found in that book, and while some of it is off the beaten path, some of it Last week, a verse from chapter 7 struck me:

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
For it is not wise to ask such questions.

Ecclesiastes 7:10 (NIV)

I think this verse hit home to be because, as I get older, I can see the temptation to look back at years gone by and rail at how much better things used to be.

Things were “simpler…” “more innocent…” “easier…” People were “friendlier…” “less disconnected…” “not so busy…” And you know what? All of those statements ring with a certain amount of truth. But we can’t allow ourselves to dwell on the past and refuse to acknowledge both the present and the future.

My grandfather does this well. At 87, he can still spin the greatest stories of growing up during the Depression, raising my mom and aunts, and meeting countless politicians, astronauts, and other important people, but he doesn’t live there in the past. He appreciates the miraculous leaps in technology in his lifetime, and he refuses to forget that change can be good.

Respect the past. Cherish and enjoy your memories. But never do so at the expense of the gift of today that God has given us.

Believe me, as I get older, I’m learning to appreciate the present more and more.

Joshua 4: Memorials

The word memorial has an obviously sad connotation. We only tend to associate it these days with death and sorrow, but God has Joshua and the Israelites build a memorial to commemorate their crossing the Jordan — an event worthy of celebration.

1 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua,2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe,

3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe,5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites,6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’

7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

[…]

20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan.21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over.

24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

Joshua 4:1-7, 20-24 (NIV)

We should all have such memorials in our lives. I don’t mean that we all have a pile of rocks we can go to, but there should be events and milestones (no pun intended) in our walk with Christ where we can say, “look, here’s what God did.” What memorials do you have? In what ways is God’s work evident in your life to you? To others?

Joshua 1: Strong And Courageous

I’ve joined a group of guys who are sharing wisdom and holding each other accountable in the ECC Daily Reading Plan. I’m excited, because these guys are bright, genuine men of deep faith, and I can’t wait to partake in their wisdom as I share mine along with them.

When I have things to share, I’ll post them here as well. Here are my thoughts from today on Joshua 1:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NIV)


God’s command for Joshua is the same command for us. We don’t have to face hostile peoples in order to overtake their land and establish God’s kingdom. Compared to Joshua’s tasks, ours are pretty light, don’t you think? But we have the same charge from the same God who was with Joshua.
God is with us…all the time. He’s the same God who gives us strength to do all things (Philippians 4:13). So why not expect Him to go with us and help us handle our day?

The Complete Jewish Bible uses the word “bold” in place of “courageous.” That gives it a different slant to me. Not only does that phrasing suggest a passive, just-not-being-afraid, but it also suggests an active strength. We should be bold in sharing our faith, standing up for truth, doing the right thing. God gives us that power too, in addition to the power to not fear.

Just Keep Your Mouth Shut!

At Eastridge, we’ve been reading through Proverbs. I’ve read through that particular book of the Bible many times, but, like so much of God’s Word, I’m always surprised at how much new stuff I learn when I go back to Proverbs. The wisdom contained in that book is just amazing, and there are several themes we see there. One theme that jumps out at me every time is that of controlling one’s speech.

The authors of Proverbs have plenty to say about taming the tongue. Here’s just a sample:

A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret. (11:13)

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (12:18)

A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly. (12:23)

He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin. (13:3)

It’s clear from the Bible that the best course of action is to avoid speaking up when there’s any doubt. One verse that always hits me like a ton of bricks is this one:

Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue. (17:28)

Along the same lines, Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

I’ll admit I’m the world’s worst at it, but I can see the value in keeping my mouth shut. I wish I could do it more often. It’s an easy temptation to fire off at the mouth when someone breaks in line, when the boss is unreasonable, when family members create drama, or when someone else says something stupid.

How much better would the world be if everyone thought before they spoke, or…even better…if people chose more often not to speak at all? How more wise would all of us appear? Isn’t it worth resisting that easy temptation?

A Nation Set Apart By God

One of the issues that matters most to me is that of America’s support of Israel. I don’t think of it as a political matter; rather, it’s a moral imperative (and a spiritual one for Jews and Christians). I firmly believe that Israel is a nation set apart by God, and as such, I support Israel and its modern existence.

Early this week in the Eastridge Reading Plan, we read through Isaiah 43, and the first seven verses struck me. I’m not a Biblical scholar…and I don’t think I had anybody fooled before admitting that…but I can’t help but wonder if these verses are a prophecy of the foundation of the modern nation of Israel:

1 But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

3 For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.

4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give men in exchange for you,
and people in exchange for your life.

5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.

6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—

7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah 43:1-7 (NIV)

I firmly believe that God set apart the nation of Israel thousands of years ago, and he does today. That’s why I support Israel…not just because it’s the only true democracy in the Middle East…not just because it’s a beacon of freedom in a area in which liberty is foreign…not just because it’s threatened on all sides and treated wrongly internationally…but also because God expects us to do so. As God told Abraham (emphasis is mine):

2 “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:2-3 (NIV)

Haters

Earlier this week, I wrote about the value of teamwork as seen in the book of Nehemiah. Just because the teamwork made building the wall easier doesn’t mean that there wasn’t opposition.

Nehemiah and the Israelites had to deal with haters in the form of Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab. (Yep, even back then the Israelites were troubled by Arabs.) Like Statler and Waldorf on The Muppet Show, these three popped up several times throughout the narrative of the book of Nehemiah to taunt the Israelites, and at one point they even set up a plot to kill Nehemiah.

Nehemiah wasn’t fooled. He didn’t fall for the plot, and he did his best not to allow the Israelites to be brought down. Most importantly, he stayed faithful to God and remained determined to see the task through.  He even prayed to God to deliver them from the opposition:

Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.

Nehemiah 4:4 (NIV)

How do you handle opposition, especially when that opposition is also against God and His plans? It’s not always easy to look the haters in the face and persist in doing what’s right. But it’s worth the fight every time.

Teamwork

At Eastridge, we’re currently reading through Nehemiah, an amazing and possibly often overlooked story of God’s people rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and, in the process, reconnecting with God. It’s an inspiring episode, and over the next few days, I’m going to share some of my thoughts from reading it the last couple of weeks.

Chapter 3 is one of those infamous “list” chapters. If you’re even a little familiar with the Bible, you know what I’m talking about — chapters that consist of fairly dry lists of people and families and what they did. Once you really start looking at the list you see something remarkable. Almost everyone is Israel did their part and pitched in to help rebuild the wall.

Any great project takes teamwork. Let’s face it…a lot of small projects benefit from it as well. Not only does teamwork make a project more possible, and not only is teamwork more rewarding for those involved, but teamwork is also inspiring to others who see the results.

What are some areas of your life…at work…with family…among friends…in ministry…that would benefit from teamwork? How can you benefit from teamwork, and how can you foster it more among the people with whom you come in contact?

…Nothing But The Best…

At Eastridge, we’re reading through the book of Exodus. We’ve gotten near the end of the book, and we’re at a spot where I sort of bog down every time I read it. After God established His covenant with Moses and the Israelite people, He gave Moses a long list of instructions for building the Tabernacle where God’s people were to worship Him, along with all the items that are meant to go in it. (You can read it here, if you’re unfamiliar with what I’m talking about.)

The passage reads like a cross between an instruction manual and a shopping list for Home Depot, with its exacting specifications and meticulous directions. It’s a bit dry, and I’ve often wondered why it was in the Bible in such detail (and why I had to read it).  Continue reading …Nothing But The Best…